Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Becoming Nancy Drew

This blog is about genealogy, in case that isn't obvious. But I'll get to that soon enough.

When I was younger, I discovered my mother's complete collection of Nancy Drew books and being an avid reader, I devoured them. A detective who was a high school girl? How cool was that? I was quickly hooked on mysteries and soon decided I wanted to be a detective.

When I was a little older than that, my family went out to eat at a seafood restaurant in Freeport, the small village on the South Shore of Long Island where I lived. When I opened the menu, I saw the first page was the story about the founding of Freeport by a man named Edward Raynor. It immediately caught my attention and kept my interest because my mother's maiden name was Raynor. Coincidence? Could this Edward be a distant relative? How might they possibly be related? What would Nancy Drew do to solve this mystery?

As it turns out, this first case of mine would have made a very boring book, as the Raynor family, one of the first English families to settle Long Island, had already been extensively researched and my maternal grandmother, the keeper of our family tree, had given my mother all the information in a handy-dandy binder. Edward was an nth-grandfather. Mystery solved.

But my interest was piqued. And over the years, it only grew. And I soon realized that my Nancy Drew days, pathetic as they had been, were not over. What about my dad's family? Where had they come from? What was their story? And my mother's mother? Her dad was born in Ireland and claimed to have seen a leprechaun (a story that even today my superstitious Irish side is reluctant to entirely dismiss), but that's all I knew about her family. And what of these women who had married into the Raynor family - the Seamans, the Pearsalls, the Smiths - all early important Long Island families in their own right...what were their stories? The mystery was far from over. There was still a lot of work for Nancy Drew to do.

For me, doing genealogy is doing detective work. It's starting with names and places and photos and stories and looking for the facts to not only back them up but to connect the pieces of the puzzle. Geneology is like having a haystack full of needles, and not only looking for the individual needles, but also the threads to tie them together.

Since those beginnings, my family tree has grown many more branches, and I have become its keeper. But with each needle discovered, there's another one to look for. The mystery only continues to grow.

I'm not an actual detective. I'm just a lowly newspaper reporter. But turns out I get to be Nancy Drew after all.

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